The new arrivals from Ukraine were due to participate in their first Thanksgiving holiday gatherings on Monday, but thoughts of the escalating war in their home country were also on their minds.
Russian missiles struck several Ukrainian cities on Monday, including the capital Kyiv, leading to an increase in the number of people killed and injured since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbor on February 24.
The deadly attacks followed airstrikes in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine on Sunday that left at least a dozen people dead.
Svitlana Poliezhaieva’s mother lives in Kyiv, and her grandfather, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins and friends live all over Ukraine. Poliezhaieva said she was constantly living in pain and stress.
“My biggest worry for Ukraine is that people are dying. Children are dying. And that’s my biggest pain,” she said.
Poliezhaieva and her two daughters fled Ukraine on March 1 and temporarily settled in Germany for five months. She called the past few months a “nightmare” for her and her family.
“You kind of feel this pain and it’s hard to do something about it, to influence the situation,” Poliezhaieva said.
A rally at The Forks was held on Monday and around 200 people showed up to denounce the latest Russian attacks on Ukraine.
“All Russia does is terrorism. They terrorize peaceful populations. They do not follow any law, regulation, practice, practice of war,” said rally organizer Halyna Shtoyko, born in Ukraine and immigrated to Canada in 2000. “They just target civilians, civilian infrastructure.”
After another round of attacks, the Ukrainian community in Winnipeg just wants people to be better protected against Russian artillery.
“We are frustrated that we have no air defense to protect the civilian population of Ukraine. And that resonates deeply with every person you will find here and thousands more who have not heard of the event or the shelter. I couldn’t come,” Shtoyko said.
“It’s Thanksgiving weekend, but we’re not sitting down.”
This includes Oleh Blazhko, 16, who arrived in Winnipeg from Ukraine two months ago, where he now lives with his aunt’s family.
Blazhko spoke to his family in western Ukraine after the attacks, and while he’s happy they’re safe, his biggest worry is the increased fury of Russian armed forces artillery .
“I felt like the world was watching and doing nothing. So I would like the world to wake up and just watch the news and do something, please,” Blazhko said. “We have to defend our children, we have to defend our civilians.”
“Grateful to be alive”
Poliezhaieva has been living in the Transcona neighborhood of Winnipeg for two months, and she is beyond grateful for all the support her family has received from the community. Although she sometimes feels helpless, building a better future for her family has been what has driven her since she was kicked out of Ukraine.
The residence she shares with her husband, mother-in-law and two daughters has been almost completely furnished thanks to donations from the owner and others in the area.
“I am grateful to our friends, family and new Canadian friends who support us,” said Poliezhaieva, adding that life in Winnipeg has been filled with new experiences like using credit cards and understanding the real estate market. .
Most importantly, Poliezhaieva is grateful to be able to keep her family safe at a time when Ukrainian families are not so lucky.
The five of them planned a Thanksgiving dinner with five other Ukrainian Canadians with turkey, potatoes, salads and pie.
“We respect the customs and traditions of Canada because it’s a country we live in,” she said.
Thanksgiving in Southern Manitoba
About 70 Ukrainian Canadians gathered for a Thanksgiving dinner Sunday in Morden, Manitoba.
Father Mykhaylo Khomitskyy, priest at All the Saints of Ukraine Catholic Mission in Morden as well as pastor of St. Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Winnipeg, attended the dinner and liturgy. He said it was a wonderful opportunity to meet Ukrainians new to Canada, share stories and see how the church community can help them move forward.
“They were blessed with the warmth and hospitality and especially with this special day in Ukraine that we’re starting to celebrate right now, so it’s pretty new for them,” Khomitskyy told CBC News on Monday. “They were quite amazed.”
During the liturgy, he said prayers were offered for peace in Ukraine and the victims of all Russian aggression since last winter.
And while there is meaning in holding a Thanksgiving service in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Khomitskyy stressed the importance of not only celebrating Thanksgiving, but also living with gratitude on a daily basis.